MSHA suing operator for unpaid fines

THE US Mine Safety and Health Administration has filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Darby for more than $US500,000 in unpaid fines for violations stemming from the 2006 explosion that killed five workers.

Donna Schmidt

The operator’s Darby No. 1 operation initially challenged the federal fines, but last September agreed to dismiss its claim against the agency regarding six contributory violations of health and safety that totalled $342,000.

MSHA said Tuesday that it agreed to the request, giving the company until October 19 to remit payment. Kentucky Darby, which has contested other violations not related to the incident, later agreed to withdraw those protests as well.

According to the agency, the total now due from the operator is $505,012 as additional penalties, interest and administrative fees have been added.

“Kentucky Darby LLC had an opportunity to make good on its agreement to pay its penalty, and it failed to do so," said new deputy assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Michael A Davis, who took over the seat in January.

“Consequently, the company now faces even higher fines."

The company has 20 days after being served the complaint and summons to respond to the suit. Kentucky Darby did not issue a public statement Tuesday.

According to MSHA’s investigation report of the May 20, 2006 explosion accident, the blast occurred when a foreman used an acetylene torch to cut through a metal roof strap that extended through the mine’s seals. The act ignited accumulated methane behind the sealed area, resulting in the explosion.

While one worker escaped with injuries, two others near the seals died immediately and three more miners received carbon monoxide poisoning and passed away while evacuating.

After MSHA’s report was released in April 2007, the agency initially assessed $336,000 for the six violations. In that documentation, it pointed to the operator for the accident’s direct causes because “critical safety standards” were not met.

“Mine management failed to ensure that proper seal construction procedures were utilised in the building of the seals behind which the explosion occurred,” it said at the time.

“Mine management also failed to ensure that safe work procedures were used while employees attempted to make corrections to an improperly constructed seal [and] mine management failed to adequately train miners in escapeway routes.

“[Also], mine management failed to adequately train miners in the proper use of self-contained self-rescuers.”

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